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The Once and Future King

Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  The Once and Future King

author  T. H. (Terence Hanbury) White

type of work  Novel

genre  Fantasy; heroic epic; satire

language  English

time and place written  England; 19361958

date of first publication  1958. The four books that make up the novel were previously published separately: “The Sword in the Stone” in 1938; “The Queen of Air and Darkness” (published as The Witch in the Wood) in 1939; “The Ill-Made Knight” in 1940; and “The Candle in the Wind” in 1958.

publisher  G. P. Putnam’s Sons

narrator  The narrator speaks in the third person and is omniscient, or all-knowing. The narrator has access to the thoughts of all the characters and provides commentary on the context of the work, as in the references to Adolf Hitler, Uncle Sam, and Sir Thomas Malory.

point of view  In general, the novel oscillates among the points of view of Arthur, Lancelot, and Guenever, though it occasionally assumes the point of view of minor characters such as Elaine and Gawaine.

tone  The tone changes throughout the four books of the novel. It is playful and satirical in the first book, but gradually grows darker and more serious

tense  Past

setting (time)  The era of King Arthur, a legendary figure in the folklore of medieval England

setting (place)  Medieval England and France

protagonist  Arthur, who is called the Wart in Book I, is the protagonist of most of the novel, but Lancelot is the protagonist of the third book.

major conflict  Arthur struggles to transform feudal England into a civilized country in which strength does not overwhelm justice.

rising action  Lancelot’s destructive love affair with Guenever; the jealous conspiracies of the Orkney faction; Arthur’s incestuous affair with Morgause

climax  Because the novel is episodic in form, each of its books comes to its own minor climax: in Book I, Arthur’s becoming king; in Book II, Morgause’s seduction of Arthur; in Book III, the blossoming of Lancelot and Guenever’s affair; and in Book IV, the exposing of Lancelot and Guenever’s affair.

falling action  Arthur wages war against Lancelot; Mordred seizes power in England

themes  The relationship between force and justice; the senselessness of war; the frivolity of knighthood

motifs  Myths and legends; blood sports; castles

symbols  The Round Table; the Questing Beast; the Holy Grail

foreshadowing  Merlyn’s frequent comments about Arthur’s future and death hint at the destruction of Camelot and the demise of Arthur’s reign, which is the most prominent subject of foreshadowing in the novel.